The legendary live album by Donny Hathaway is 45 years old on this day. A superb voice, fantastic band and a very enthusiastic audience make up for one of the greatest live albums of all time.
Donny Hathaway was born on October 1st, 1945, in Saint Louis (Missouri). He started singing in the local church choir when he was three years old. As a child he played piano as well, eventually earning him a scholarship at Howard University in 1964. He made his first commercial steps as a songwriter, session musician and producer for, among others, The Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin and Curtis Mayfield.
After a while he signed a solo-contract with Atco Records. His first single on the label was The Ghetto, Pt. 1. His debutalbum ,Everything Is Everything, was released in 1970. The album’s content was critical of the American society. His second album, called simply Donny Hathaway, was a hit. He knew Roberta Flack for quite some time, when they decided to record a duetalbum. It was hugely successful. In the same year the album Live was released, which proved to be his biggest hit.
After that album things started to go downhill rapidly for Hathaway. He became heavily depressed. Before long he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He had to take heavy drugs on a daily basis, which he didn’t always do. His illness took a heavy toll on his marriage and career. He was hospitalized many times. In 1973 another album was released, but after that it went silent. The friendship with Roberta Flack deteriorated as well. They got back together in 1978. Things started to look up for Hathaway. They even put out a single: The Closer I Get To You. As a result they would re-enter the studio to record new music.
January 13th, 1979
That day a new recording session with Hathaway started. His voice sounded terrific, but as the sessions progressed he started to behave irrational, paranoid and delusional. He said “white people” wanted to kill him and that they had hooked his brain up to a machine, as to steal his music and sound. The session was cut short.
Some hours later Hathaway was found dead on the curb next to the Essex Hotel in New York, where he rented a room on the 15th floor. His death was officially ruled a suicide. He supposedly jumped off his balcony. However it may be, Donny Hathaway was dead at just 33 years old. He left his wife Eulaulah and two daughters, Lalah and Kenya, behind.
The album is the result of the recordings of a number of shows. Side A contains recordings made at The Troubadour, Hollywood between August 24th and 30th, 1971. Side B was recorded at The Bitter End, New York in October of 1971.
Accompanied by a (jazzy) backingband Live starts off beautifully. A great cover of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. Hathaway sings with great conviction and the audience is ecstatic. When he follows it up with The Ghetto, the album is fully underway. The audience participates with the ‘soul-clap’. The cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy is moving and makes the original look pale. The album ends with a 13 minute rendition of Voices Inside (Everything is Everything), a rather ironic title given the circumstances surrounding his illness and premature death.
By the way the band plays and the audience behaves, it feels like you’re at the actual concert. Great solo’s, heartwarming audience participation and Hathaway singing and playing intensely.
The album was his first gold record. Hathaway seemed not too satisfied: “I’m naturally happy with the sales but the album itself isn’t as good as I would have liked it, I’ve got to polish myself up for the next one”.
- What’s Goin’ On (Renaldo “Obie” Benson, Al Cleveland, Marvin Gaye)
- The Ghetto (Donny Hathaway, Leroy Hutson)
- Hey Girl (Earl DeRouen)
- You’ve Got a Friend (Carole King)
- Little Ghetto Boy (Earl Derouen, Edward Howard)
- We’re Still Friends (Donny Hathaway, Glenn Watts)
- Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
- Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything) (Richard Evans, Philip Upchurch, Ric Powell)
But why is the album that good? I think it’s because of the freedom that can be heard and felt through the music. The Ghetto and Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything) both last over 10 minutes. The musicians (and audience) get to shine, but also, the songs are turned inside-out. The spontaneity and sheer fun of the concerts is captured to the fullest on Live.
Amy Winehouse was a big admirer of Donny Hathaway. In her first big hit Rehab Winehouse states “‘Cause there’s nothing, there’s nothing you can teach me / That I can’t learn from Mr. Hathaway”.
What do you think of this album? Let me know!